AAC preview: Ranking the conference's QB situations
As a precursor to the American Athletic Conference Summer Kickoff and Media Days, we're spending the next few days previewing various parts of the conference, from schedules to story lines to significant players.
Today, we rank the teams according to their current quarterback situations. The more stability and proven production at the spot, the higher the ranking.
Quinton Flowers, enough said. The two dudes behind him, Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun, appear pretty promising also.
Six-foot-4 senior Riley Ferguson, arguably the conference's top QB draft prospect, threw for nearly 3,700 yards and a program-best 32 touchdowns last season. Considering three of his top four seniors (and nearly his whole offensive line) returns, Ferguson likely will flirt with 4,000 this fall.
Greg Ward Jr. (aka Houston's heart and soul) is gone, but Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen steps in. Say what you will about his turbulent tenure in College Station(including three pick-sixes in one game against 'Bama), there's zero substitute for experience, and Allen made 14 starts over two seasons. Moreover, senior Kyle Postma, who will challenge Allen in the preseason, has made 19 career appearances.
For all the holes new Bearcats coach Luke Fickell must fill, he's got considerable experience behind center. Junior Hayden Moore has thrown for more than 3,600 yards, 20 TDs and 18 picks over the last two seasons while flip-flopping with Gunner Kiel, but is being pushed by Ross Trail. A 6-3 sophomore, Trail struggled in four appearances last season (six INTs, one TD), but was thrust into some tough situations (including the USF game, only his second career start).
Third-year coach Chad Morris' preseason derby could evolve into a three-player race. Sophomore Ben Hicks played in 12 games last season and may have the edge for now, but Arkansas transfer Rafe Peavey -- a former Under Armour All-American -- now is eligible, and juco transfer D.J. Gillins could be a wild card. A Wisconsin transfer, Gillins started Pearl River (Miss.) Community College's opener last year but suffered a season-ending injury in the game.
After a freshman season that ranged from solid to spotty, McKenzie Milton should take significant strides in 2017. His run game (104th nationally last season) can only improve, and he'll be protected by a veteran front. Knights fans should see more of the Marcus Mariota-type skill set that had Scott Frost enamored with Milton while the Knights second-year coach still was employed at Oregon.
7. East Carolina
Former juco transfer Gardner Minshew, who started two games and made five other appearances last season, is the No. 1 guy after a solid spring. Graduate transfer Thomas Sirk, a former Duke starter and co-MVP of the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl, ultimately will push him. Not a shabby QB situation for a club coming off a 3-9 season.
Junior Zach Abey did enough down the stretch last season (in place of injured starter Will Worth) and in spring practices to earn the starting gig. His triple-option chops will benefit from a strong offensive line (When is Navy not strong up front?) and an accommodating early schedule (FAU, Tulane) that will help him find his groove.
The two primary candidates to replace Golden Hurricane career passing leader Dane Evans are talented but unproven. Sophomore Chad President was the nation's ninth-ranked dual-threat quarterback by Rivals.com in 2014, but has thrown five career collegiate passes. Still, that's five more than 6-2 redshirt freshman Luke Skipper, who totaled more than 7,000 yards at Forney (Texas) High. On the upside, the rest of the skill spots are loaded.
New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, hired from Auburn to resuscitate the Huskies woeful unit, will oversee a preseason derby that could feature up to five candidates. Fifth-year senior Bryant Shirreffs has been the starter most of the last two years, but sophomore Donovan Williams started the final three games last fall. If new coach Randy Edsall wants to grow with his youngsters right away, he may turn to 6-5 freshman Jordan McAfee, who may have the most upside of the bunch.
Like Tulsa, the Owls are high on potential but virtually bereft of game experience. The four quarterbacks on the roster have combined for 11 college pass attempts.
Junior Glen Guiellette, who started 10 games last season, was beaten out in the spring by juco transfer Jonathan Banks. Yikes.